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Copyright 2016 Tim Lea.

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Published by 54 Days Pty Ltd, Sydney Australia.
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or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of
this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or
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ISBN 978-1-63587-669-7 (e-pub)

What does the blockchain mean to you?

I keep hearing about it in the media - but dont know what

it is!
I have read some things about it but just dont get it.
Isnt it just some trendy bandwagon that the financial
media is over-hyping?
Isnt it just Bitcoin, drugs, and hitmen?

Whatever your perception of the blockchain, it is gaining traction

around the globe with the media increasing their almost insatiable
coverage of the technology. The challenge for them, and for all
of us, is that the technology is very deep, very powerful, and
very complex. Moreover, its not a technology that can easily be
described in a few words and that is a major problem.

If we think back to the 1990s, Al Gore, the US senator, and

later US Vice-President, first described the internet as

The information superhighway.

When he made this reference, we all got it; the media got it. It
made it easier for everyone to understand it and to work with it.
With the promise of abundant richness of information online, we

Down The Rabbit Hole

iv Preface

put up with the squealing dog whistle that shrilled from our state-
of-the-art 14.4k modem. We put up with images that sluggishly
traced their way, one line at a time, onto the gargantuan off-white
concrete blocks we used to call computer monitors. We put up
with the basic content because we didnt know any better. It
was new, game-changing and, ultimately, life-changing.

For those of you that remember the glory days of plodding

along in the slow lane of the infobahn, the blockchain now will
hold a great sense of dj vu. For those that dont, you are
about to embrace the latest, leading-edge technology and
leading-edge thought, which could lead us all one step closer
towards singularity, where man and machine blend, where
computer code replaces governments and where that computer
code is law. Could this take us one stage closer towards the
future Armageddon of Skynet depicted in the Terminator movie
franchise? Who knows? However, the world as we know it is on
the road to deep, irreversible, transformative change.

The blockchain has the power to remove the need for trust.
With it, it has the power to reduce our reliance upon the traditional
custodians of trust - the financial institutions, the bankers, the
auditors and the lawyers. Being at the very epicentre of trust as
we know it today, they are facing change of tsunamic proportions
as the technology grows, develops and evolves, bringing with it
disruption that these traditionally very conservative segments of
our society have never had to face before.

Not only will the blockchain disrupt financial services but it

also has the potential to disrupt almost every industry. Now we
can establish proof of ownership and provenance, quickly and
easily. Already this is beginning to change the landscape of

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Preface v

ownership for diamonds, artwork, even videos. It also has the

potential to help those in the third world that have no identity,
or the 2bn people in the world that are currently unbanked. It
is almost irreversible and fuelled by a Venture Capital sector
salivating at the almost limitless opportunities for growth. We are
at the stage where the genie is squeezing itself out of the bottle,
one-way ticket in hand and ready for you to command.

In this book, you will have the opportunity to make sense of

it all - in plain English. While so many of the concepts and ideas
are very complex and very technical in nature, the overriding aim
is to explain them in easy-to-understand language. By doing so,
you will understand how this complex technology works; you will
understand its strengths and its weaknesses and how it is used
in practice. You will also see the challenges being faced by those
who are trying to develop commercial ideas and by those who
are early adopters. Most importantly, you will understand how to
harness its power and understand why

The blockchain is game-changing; organisation-changing;


I decided to write this book to help share my journey of

discovery. As I made my journey Down the Rabbit Hole, I
discovered a wonderland of opportunity. However, this world of
opportunity was shrouded in concepts that were very difficult to
grasp and fully understand; concepts that were new; concepts
that were radical. I had entered a world where the uber-geek
reigned supreme in a cryptographic nirvana, where the crme
of the global intelligentsia was shaping the future in front of me.
Perhaps most importantly, I came across an expanse of lush, green
fields that filled every pocket of the opportunistic horizon; lush,

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vi Preface

green fields where the very foundations of the next paradigm shift
in business were being shaped; lush green fields that challenged
everything - technically, intellectually and even philosophically.
Lush, green fields that have the potential to impact and improve
peoples lives across the globe very positively. If you have an
open mind and your eyes are opened, this journey of discovery
will have the potential to impact and improve yours perhaps
irrevocably as, together, we go Down the Rabbit Hole.

Down The Rabbit Hole

How Best To Use This Book

The blockchain, its history, ideas, and philosophies can, at times,

be very complex. While I have sought to translate this complexity
into easy-to-bite pieces, I have written this book in such a way
as to gradually take you on a journey, building your knowledge
and understanding of this complexity not only through direct
explanation and use cases but also through the experience of
learning through story telling.

I have deliberately included some great stories from within the

global blockchain ecosystem that are interesting and engaging
in their own right, and through telling these stories, there will
be automatic references to the technology, its strengths, its
weaknesses, its potential and its problems. These references are
often embedded in the stories in such a way that you will absorb
them subconsciously through the osmosis of storytelling. By
being fully engaged with the story, you will forget the technology

Finally, while you might be tempted to go to the individual

chapters that have specific appeal to you, some of the concepts
and ideas explained in earlier chapters may not be that clear
when taken out of context in a subsequent chapter. For those of
you who will do it anyway and I well and truly hold up a mirror
to myself in that regard I have enclosed a glossary of terms and
acronyms, the Crypto-geeks Almanac, at the end of this book. I
suspect this part of the book will become well-thumbed and well-
used during the course of your journey.

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viii How Best To Use This Book

I really hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I have

enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to hearing and reading
about your own personal growth stories after reading the book.


Down The Rabbit Hole

Table of Contents

Preface iii
How Best To Use This Book  vii

1. The Blockchain WTF?  1


2. The History of The Blockchain 9
3. How Does The Blockchain Work - In Plain English ? 21
4. Blockchain Technology - The Ten Pillars Of Strength  34
5. Blockchain Technology - The Ten Major Weaknesses50


6. The Early Adoption of the Blockchain 71
7. The Rise and Fall of Silk Road - Bitcoins Tainted Brilliance 84
8. How secure is the Blockchain? - The $2bn Bitcoin Heists 107


9.Crossing the Commercial Chasm The Challenges
of Blockchain Adoption123
10. The Blockchain Outside Of Financial Services  131
11.Following the Money Venture Capital Investment
In The Blockchain145
12.The Initial Coin Offering The Venture Capitalists
Get Disrupted153

Down The Rabbit Hole

13. Smart Contracts The Killer Application or Just Industry Hype? 167
14. Why Smart contracts arent smart!  181
15. The DAO Who Needs A CEO? 188
16.When Dreams Are Shattered -
The DAO $53m Attack and its implications195
17. Regulation The Never Ending Game Of Cat And Mouse  222


18. The Best Is Yet to Come 10 Alternative Coins To Watch 243
19. The Cryptocurrency Markets Following The Future Winners 256
20. Identity, Voting, And The Blockchain  262
21.Can I Have My Shoes Back? Developing Nations
And The Blockchain267
22. Islamic Finance And The Blockchain A Perfect Match?278
23.When Oceans Collide - Convergence With
The Internet of Things285
24. Predictions For The Future Of The Blockchain294
25. Our Supporters Best Blockchain Quotes304
26.Conclusions 307

Staying Up To Date Blogs/News Sites,

Podcasts & YouTube Channels 312

Down The Rabbit Hole

1 The Blockchain - WTF?

There was a bone-crisp chillness in the early-winter New York air.

The pale shimmer of the sun in the faded blue-jean sky wavered
through trees stripped bare of their autumnal delight. It slithered
across warmth-whispered faces huddled deep within tightened
scarves and ears tinged with the softest rose-bud red. The light
northerly breeze whispered its gentle chill, the clouds of puff-
dry breaths greeting the daily commute with their clockwork-like
welcome. Blank faces bathed in a sea of silence carefully avoided
the vaguest hint of an extended gaze. Carefully groomed faces
etched deep with a sense of contemplation fantasised about their
restoration of humanity at the end of ten hours of habitual routine.
On Friday, December 2nd, 2015 in New York it was a normal day,
a normal dollar. For the equity research team at Goldman Sachs,
however, the story was different, very different

For the Goldman Sachs Equity Research team, that day will
be viewed as a landmark. It was a landmark that recognised
something very powerful was truly happening. It was a landmark
that earmarked a new paradigm shift was about to erupt. It was a
landmark where a core technology had begun to evolve that had
the sheer, unbridled power to enable dramatic, transformative,

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2 Chapter 1: The Blockchain - WTF?

irreversible change. On that day, the analysts note from the

Goldman Sachs Emerging Theme Radar report1 simply read,

the Blockchain, can change well everything.

This statement was to mark one of the first realisations that

the blockchain was a technology that had the capability to be
ubiquitous, to be applied not just to financial services but to so
many other wider applications beyond just Dollars, Euros, and

The world of financial services in general and the closed

bubble of financial technology, in particular, had already begun to
see a natural fit earlier in the year. The key driver came from the
realisation that the technology that underpins Bitcoin, the worlds
first cryptocurrency, was a sleeping giant that had been woken
from its slumber. Santander Innovations, part of Banco Santander,
were one of the first institutions to see deeper and recognise its

In July 2015, they published their ground-breaking report,

Fintech 2.0: Rebooting Financial Services.2 In it, one of their major
conclusions estimated that up to $20bn of annual cost savings
could be made within the infrastructure of the financial services
industry using blockchain-based technologies. One of the major
challenges, however, was that Bitcoin had a tarnished reputation.



Down The Rabbit Hole

Chapter 1: The Blockchain - WTF? 3

Bitcoin itself first came onto the scene in January 2009. The
Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was in full flow; major banking
institutions had closed their doors; financial confidence was
dead, and recession was the de facto standard globally. With its
core principal of replacing trust using cryptography, Bitcoin had
slowly become a new digital currency that enabled transactions
to be conducted online without the need for a trusted third party
such as banks or credit card companies. Also, by its almost
anonymous nature, it meant that transactions could happen
between two individuals who would only be represented by their
public key address a string of alphanumeric characters that
represent a destination address for a Bitcoin payment. This sense
of anonymity was a fact that was quickly picked up by perhaps
the earliest, and most headline-grabbing, innovators, the criminal

In 2011, a website called Silk Road began to operate. It was

hidden deep in the Dark Net, a layer of the internet deep below
the traditional internet, where sites deliberately seek to maintain
complete anonymity and are not indexed by Google or the other
search engines. It is an area of the web that many arent aware
of or, understandably, may fear to discover. Silk Road established
itself quickly as a sales site where you could buy almost anything,
from illicit drugs to weapons, amongst other nefarious products
and services on offer. At the time of its closure by law enforcement
agencies in 2013, it had transacted more than $1.2bn of sales
with estimated commissions of nearly $80m3 for the operator,

3 The
sealed complaint: United States of America vs Ross William Ulbricht
dated 27th September 2013 Ste of New York.

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4 Chapter 1: The Blockchain - WTF?

who went under the name of Dread Pirate Roberts. He became

a nebulous figurehead of the dark side of the new technology.

Silk Road, by its financial results, represented a major proven

use case for Bitcoin. Not only were the financial results impressive,
but it also highlighted the technology was proven in perhaps one
of the toughest, most intolerant of environments. After all, the
stakes for failure would have been significantly higher given the
occupational hazard of dealing with a core audience that has a
less-than-traditional view of law and order. Moreover, it is this that
represented a major problem for Bitcoin and any technologies
associated with it reputational risk.

Reputation is everything for banks and financial institutions.

Without it, they are out of business, as the Global Financial Crisis
had already proven, to the chagrin of many. So notwithstanding
that the new technology had the potential to dispense with trust
and had a proven track record of strength and reliability, its
reputation meant almost without doubt that it would never be
used for traditional banking. That is where the de-coupling of
the underlying technology of blockchain from Bitcoin itself has
come in. Establishing the generic technology, rather than its
association with a tainted brand, meant there was greater scope
for development.

This has certainly now begun to happen with increased

vigour as the Venture Capital (VC) community has started to get
in on the act. Investment to the tune of $1.3bn has already been
seen to support the technology, with much more on its way. The
investment community sees the paradigm shift as being the
opportunity to own the real estate behind the shifting paradigm

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Chapter 1: The Blockchain - WTF? 5

by financing its development. From here, it has almost become a

self-reinforcing cycle.

As the technology attracts ever-increasing media attention,

more and more people are beginning to get behind it. So much
so, that now we are seeing the major technology players such
as Microsoft and IBM getting in on the act. After all, these are the
organisations that are trusted by major institutions the world over
to enable the safe implementation of the latest technologies.
Perhaps, more pragmatically, they are also names that have
reputations they cannot afford to lose and are a known, significant
name that can be sued in the event of major problems associated
with the implementation. No-one will get sacked, necessarily, by
taking a safe option that de-risks the implementation of something
new within a large corporation or institution.

The presence of these organisations has given the technology

the credibility it so desperately needs to be commercially rolled
out. This credibility further reinforces that the whole blockchain
ecosystem is being approached with serious intent, and as it
begins to evolve further and grow from strength to strength, it will
get stronger and stronger as risks increasingly begin to diminish.
This is the driving force behind many organisations committing
serious resources, financial and otherwise, to get behind it.

The technology is building momentum, and building

momentum fast. Will it be the panacea to the banking malaise
of the Global Financial Crisis? Will it have the power to affect
the dramatic change the media keep promoting? Does it, as
Goldman Sachs first stated in December 2015, have the power
to change well, everything?

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6 Chapter 1: The Blockchain - WTF?

To answer these questions, we first need to go back to basics.

We need to understand where the technology came from, how
it works, its strengths and weaknesses, its potential and its
drawbacks. By understanding the basics, you can see where the
technology can fit into your agenda, whatever that might be. So,
lets get dirty under the hood so you can begin to understand
why there is so much interest in the technology and to help you
get to grips with its powerful future.

Down The Rabbit Hole

The History Of The
2 Blockchain

In order to get a three-dimensional understanding of the

blockchain, its power, and its future, we also need to understand
the drivers behind its original production. We need to understand
the evolution of the technology, the motivations of the key
individuals behind it, and the environment that prompted its
creation and launch. These drivers will give an insight into the
why, the how and the what of the technology. Together,
these have shaped the design of the technology and, as we
will see, have had a profound effect on the shape and future
direction of the development of the technology.

Surprising for many, perhaps, is the fact that while Bitcoin

currently has a market capitalisation of close to $12bn, 12 times
bigger than its nearest rival, Ethereum. The actual technology,
however, was not originally designed with a commercial narrative
in mind, but more from the perspective of ideology.

The Original White Paper

In October 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote the original white
paper4 Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. At the
time of its launch, the world was in crisis. Banks were failing, jobs

4 The original white paper is available to view at

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10 Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain

were being lost left and right, and economies were slowly grinding
to a halt. The engines of major economies were showing signs
of seizing up as the flow of lubrication, in the form of inter-bank
finance, was drying up. Desperate times called for desperate
measures, and on 3 October 2008, the Emergency Economic
Stabilization Act of 2008 usually referred to as the bailout of
the US Financial System was effected into law in the US.

In the original 9-page white paper, which I would urge

everyone to read, Satoshi summarised the key benefits of Bitcoin
when he described the technology in one sentence:

A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would

allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to
another without going through a financial institution.

The timing was almost pinpoint perfection to reflect the events

of the Global Financial Crisis, and on 3 January 2009 at 18.15 pm
GMT, Bitcoin was launched, but with no fanfare, publicity agents
or corporate PR. It was just launched silently into the ether.

Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?

The creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, is a very elusive figure
very elusive. After releasing his first Bitcoin white paper in late
October 2008 on the cryptographic mailing list,
and subsequently releasing the first software that launched the
Bitcoin network in January 2009, he continued his involvement
with the cryptocurrency until his complete disappearance from
the scene in April 2011, never to be heard of again.

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Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain 11

His disappearance, just as Bitcoin was beginning to take

off and gain acceptance, marked the beginning of one of the
greatest enigmas in the global technology space. Why would
the brilliant creator of such an innovative technology as Bitcoin
suddenly disappear? Why would his last correspondence to a
software developer confirm Ive moved on to other things?
Since this time, there has been complete radio silence no hint
of his subsequent activities; no communication; nothing.

The mystique is made ever more noticeable because the

creator of Bitcoin still has an estimated one million Bitcoins
that remain untouched.5 These are valued, at current market
rates, at more than $700m. Not only has this added to the aura
of mystique around Bitcoins creator, but it has also created a
manhunt by people all desperate to answer the question Who is
Satoshi Nakamoto? Here is probably the wealthiest figure in the
cryptocurrency space and no-one knows who he is.

Many have declared themselves to be Satoshi. Many

have been labelled as Satoshi. A number of top investigative
journalists have got in on the act, declaring with aplomb that they
have allegedly unmasked Satoshi. So many theories have been
put out, ranging from Satoshi being cryptographers in Finland or
Australia through to a collective pseudonym for multiple parties
working on the project. Thus far, however, none of those claiming
to be Satoshi have ever sought to offer proof of his identity by
moving any of the original Bitcoins attributable to his name. As a
result, theories abound.



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12 Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain

My personal favourite theory, in terms of bizarreness anyway,

emanates from the broad translations of the name Satoshi
Nakamoto. By doing a web search for Japanese baby names,6
you can very quickly find that the name Satoshi as a babys name
in Japan means clear thinking, quick witted, wise. This could be
interpreted as Intelligence. Nakamoto, on the other hand, as a
Japanese surname,7 means central origin or someone who lives
in the middle, often referencing the Ryukyu islands. So, youve
guessed it, there is a theory that is gaining some traction, especially
amongst the armchair conspiracy theorists, that the creator of
Bitcoin is actually the CIA the Central Intelligence Agency.

In fact, there are so many theories it has almost got to the

farcical level where you might expect to hear one of the great
iconic lines from Monty Pythons Life of Brian:

No, Im Satoshi and sos my wife!

To date, no-one has actually been proven to be the creator of

the worlds first cryptocurrency or has fully disclosed themselves.

However, there may be a clue as to which country the creator

is likely to have come from with the very first block ever created,
which, at the same time, personifies why Bitcoin was created in
the first place.

The Genesis Block

The Genesis Block for Bitcoin was produced on 3 January 2009,
with this marking the beginning of a long journey for the creation


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Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain 13

of the worlds first cryptocurrency. In the Genesis Block, there

is a hidden message from the creator of Bitcoin that has since
become folklore within the Bitcoin and development community.
The original data from the very first block of data created in the
Bitcoin blockchain is shown below, as seen in Bitcoinwiki:8

Now, it is understandable if you dont see the hidden message, but

when the above block of data is converted into the hexadecimal
numbering system, where individual numbers represent numbers
and letters, a hidden message appears, as shown below and
again as seen in Bitcoinwiki:9



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14 Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain

In it, the hexadecimal version of the hidden message states:

Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.

Lo and behold, when you check out The

Times newspaper of the same date, as
seen in this image via Bitcoinwiki,10 you
can see this hidden message refers to
the newspaper headline from the UK on
Bitcoins launch date.

While the message may have been

inserted to almost timestamp the event,
it is also very symbolic. Here was a
cryptocurrency whose whole modus
operandi was to strip out the very need
for banks, and on the first day of its launch,
the headlines referenced a significant
argument as to why banks need to be
taken out of the equation.

This symbol has become so powerful within the cryptocurrency

space that it is almost impossible to find an original copy of The
Times newspaper of this date. All the birthday gift websites that
offer a newspaper from your date of birth have long sold out
for 3 January 2009. Indeed, we are hearing anecdotally that the
market price for a genuine copy of The Times newspaper of
that date, with all the original inserts, is around $35,000! So, get


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Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain 15

Given this hidden message, does it mean Satoshi Nakamoto

is from the UK, or was, at least, based in the UK at the time the
Genesis Block was created? Who knows, but perhaps further
clues may be gleaned from the humble beginnings of Bitcoin
that sought to create an environment where central authorities
and large organisations such as banks did not wield the power
they clearly have. It also meant that individuals privacy could be

Privacy In the Digital Era

Ever since the internet first came into the mainstream, its culture
has always been Free! Content and other material have been
made available without charge, supported by advertising.
Business models from the dot-com era rose and subsequently
fell based on the premise that advertising would pay for
everything. Audiences were herded together into communities
by great free content based around portals of mutual interest.
Corporate advertisers rushed in their droves to sell their latest
offerings to these relevant tribes.

The Darwinian landscape proved the undoing of the

advertising-based model, with the subsequent dot-com
bust proving the unsustainability of the bread-on-the-water
advertising-based models. However, despite the crash, and the
lack of viability, the culture of free has remained.

The free culture is now almost permanently imprinted into the

DNA of the digital economy and its users. Free also means that
there has been a shift from the pure advertising-based models
of the dot-com era to the era of data-driven models. Major
corporations use our data to create business models. Facebook,

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16 Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain

for example, knows much about all of us individually, our interests,

our interactions, and our habits. Collectively, these paint a
psychological picture of our potential buying behaviour, a picture
for which corporations will, and indeed do, pay handsomely. So,
as individuals, access to free content means we lose a piece of
our own freedom.

Privacy, while heavily regulated, is increasingly becoming a

thing of the past and the lack of it almost a legacy of the dot-
com era. The narrative drive for advertising has almost shifted
to cyber-stalking. How many times have you been to a website
to then find, when you visit Facebook, YouTube, and other social
media platforms, that you are presented with advertisements
from the same website you have recently visited? Our data has
significant value, and our online actions leave a digital fingerprint
that creates that value. Privacy is increasingly becoming centre-
stage in the mainstream but has always been a major issue for
the libertarian movement that has been at the leading edge of
digital currency creation the Cypherpunk movement.

The Cypherpunk movement

The Cypherpunk movement sought to leverage the use of
cryptography and other privacy-based technologies as a
catalyst for social and political change. Their core objectives, as
detailed in Eric Hughess original 1993 Cypherpunk Manifesto,11
were essentially to look at the maintenance of privacy by the
individual. The manifesto is very keen to differentiate between
privacy and secrecy. Secrecy implies something sinister; privacy

11 The
full Cypherpunk manifesto can be viewed at

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Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain 17

involves freedom from government monitoring or corporations

controlling and using our personal information. As part of this
movement, digital cash was high on the agenda digital cash
that maintained privacy from snooping eyes.

The logic for this is, in many ways, laudable. So much

information can be gleaned about an individuals actions and
motivation by what they buy. For example, there are social media
credit assessment models being developed in the provision of
bank credit where the algorithms will try to assess your credit
worthiness from the books you buy, your interactions in social
media, even the incidence of cat and dog photos in your social
media presence. If you are looking for books on bankruptcy,
for example, the algorithms may give you a negative mark for
your social media credit score. Now while that might seem fairly
innocuous, what if a 14-year-old girl has been searching for books
on pregnancy or abortion? To libertarians, this is just the tip of the
privacy iceberg, because judging someones character by their
actions will always hold true even in the digital age. With this
objective in mind, many attempts have been made to create the
nirvana of a digital currency that cannot be copied and cannot
be viewed by snooping eyes especially governments with
various degrees of success.

The first truly recognised incidence of digital cash is recognised

as having been developed by a cryptographer, David Chaum,
in the early 1990s Digicash. He used his core Blind Signature
Technology12 to create a digital currency, the primary aim of

12 BlindSignatures for Untraceable Payments, D. Chaum, Advances in

Cryptology Proceedings of Crypto 82, D. Chaum, R.L. Rivest, & A.T. Sherman
(Eds.), Plenum, pp. 199-203.

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18 Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain

which was to ensure the privacy of its users. Through the use
of secured keys, third parties were prevented from accessing
personal information through online transactions. In many ways,
this technology was markedly ahead of its time, as e-commerce,
as we understand it today, was in its pre-natal stage. With limited
support from users at the time and only minimal support from
finance institutions, Digicash Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
in 1998. Various other attempts to create a digital currency have
followed in its path, but most used the existing infrastructure, the
payment rails, of the existing financial system.

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to be set up that also

created its own financial system and did not need the existing
infrastructure. It was designed

To have its own monetary system a maximum of only 21

million Bitcoins will ever be produced (or mined, as it is
called). The last Bitcoin is expected to be mined in 2140.
To have a monetary system that lacks in-built inflation.
Every four years, the number of Bitcoins available to be
mined are halved. The last halving happened in July 2016.
To have its own protocols and to be run based purely on
computer code.
Not to be owned by any individual or corporation. Instead,
the community owns it itself.

Thus, the entire framework and ecosystem were designed to be

completely outside of the direct control of any central authority.
Bitcoin is not owned by any government, any individual, let alone
a multinational corporation. It is this background of the insatiable

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Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain 19

desire to protect freedom and privacy from central authorities

that has driven the underlying development of Bitcoin. This driver
remains very much alive today.

Bitcoin purists remain very true to their original beliefs, and

many have joined the movement to continue to push the privacy
barrow. While very positive from an ideological perspective, as
we will see much later in this book, this ideological framework
has caused a number of major problems especially when
the practicality of commercialism conflicts with this underlying

Bitcoin is a masterpiece of invention. While we may never know

who Satoshi Nakamoto is, it is incredible to think that a single
Bitcoin is now worth in excess of $720, and it has a market
capitalisation of $12bn not bad for a technology that no-one
actually owns. Equally, a Bitcoin is not a physical coin but a
cryptographically secure entry in a ledger and that is all it is.
That is powerful.

For users to have confidence in Bitcoins value, they must

believe in the cryptocurrency itself and must feel that it is secure.
The technology has proven itself since its launch back in 2009,
with the market price rising from nothing in 2009 to where it is
today. As we will see in the next section when we go under the
hood, this price reflects the power and potential it truly has to

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20 Chapter 2: The History Of The Blockchain

Bitcoin US $ Price 2012 2016

Screenshot from

Down The Rabbit Hole

How Does The Blockchain
3 Work (In Plain English)?

I want to take you back into the darkest depths of time. I want
to take you back to the time when life was so much simpler; to
a time when technology did not rule our lives; to a time when
technology wasnt right at the very core of our day-to-day lives.
For me, that time was February 12th, 1995 at 2.16 in the afternoon.
It was a cathartic moment for me. It was the exact time at which
my eyes and my mind were opened to the unbridled power and
potential of the internet.

I sat in a small, dingy office in the vibrant, art-soaked, seaside

resort of Brighton on the south coast of England. I was in the
offices of one of the very first internet providers in the UK. There,
on this concrete block of a screen in front of me was my first
website. One line at a time, a painting from a local art gallery
snaked its way into my consciousness forever. The art gallery,
which housed the piece of art, was six miles down the road in the
harbour town of Newhaven, the gateway to France. However,
what I saw was a different gateway.

The internet was a gateway to the world, a gateway to the

future. This piece of art could have been from any art gallery
anywhere in the world Los Angeles, Sydney, or Nepal. It really
didnt matter where the art gallery was; it was the technology
that was taking me there. This was bigger than anything I had

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ever seen before. Instinctively I felt the internet was going to

be unbelievable, gigantic and here I was right at the forefront
of this wave of dramatic and irreversible change. I could see its
potential. I could feel its potential. I could smell its potential on
the screen in front of me. It was at that point of realisation I said
to myself, I have to be in this business.

The internet was the beginning of a new paradigm. At the

time, my partner and I set up an internet caf-bar and restaurant,
and a web-design house. I found myself giving talks on how the
internet worked, how it was game-changing both personally and
commercially, and how the internet was about to open up the
world to everyone, everywhere.

In the 20 or so years since its beginning, the list of great

household names that have been forged into the zeitgeist is
quite incredible. It also amazes me how easily we forget what life
was like without them. I experienced this first hand on a recent
business trip to Shanghai, China.

Shanghai is an incredible source of opportunity. As the worlds

largest city by population, around 28 million people, it is a vibrant

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Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)? 23

reflection of China as a whole that is home to almost 25% of the

worlds population of 1.6bn people. While there are significant
cultural differences, there is one additional difference which we,
as westerners, have to contend with - the Great Firewall of China.

Behind this firewall, very few large western brands survive.

When I first arrived in Shanghai, not speaking a word of Chinese,
I was faced with perhaps the worst technological dilemmas a
western traveller can face.

How do you search for a Chinese search engine when you

have no access to Google?

Other questions also flooded my mind. How do you find your

hotel when you dont have access to Google maps? How do you
show the taxi driver the exact address of your hotel when you
cant access your Gmail account to pick up your hotel booking,
especially when 99% of Shanghai taxi drivers dont speak
English? How do you ask friends for help when you cant access
Facebook? Perish the thought, but it meant I would have to start
talking to people face to face and try my best to communicate.
This experience was so 20th century!

These experiences did make me realise, however, how far we

had come in 20 short years; how far technology had changed;
how it had improved our lives; how much it had changed the
way we interact with each other and how much we rely upon it.
Where the blockchain is right now is where the internet was back
in early 1995 raw but so full of potential.

When I first came across Bitcoin in about 2011, I thought yes,

this looks like an interesting experiment. However, there didnt
seem to be a commercial narrative at that time. The level of

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24 Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)?

adoption was low, and it felt very niche and very geeky. However,
in early 2015, I re-visited that view when I started looking more
deeply beneath Bitcoins hood at the underlying technology
that drove it. It was there I had my deep feeling of dj vu.

Here was an underlying technology that, with the right

application and vision, could change so many things. The
problem was that the technology was very complex and very
hard to understand, and it took a long time to get to grips with.
When Al Gore first described the internet as the Information
Super Highway, here was a descriptor that helped the media
spread the word. That descriptor summarised its power and its

This hasnt happened with the blockchain. The blockchain is

very hard to describe, if not impossible, in five words because it is
so deeply complex but has the potential for wide application. The
more times I run introductory workshops on the blockchain, you
would think the more this five-word descriptor would naturally
come to me. Alas, it hasnt. In many ways, what we really need to
see is the first great use like we did with the internet.

Back in 1995, the first use case of the Internet was email. It
meant we could replace written letters with electronic ones. We
didnt need to worry about the underlying technology being
TCP/IP Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol
we just sent an email, and the other person received it. It was
relatively easy but it solved so many problems for us. We could
communicate as quickly internationally as we could locally. It
saved us time, effort, and cash; no stamps, no envelopes. With
the blockchain, however, Bitcoin was the first proven use case.

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Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)? 25

Bitcoin was launched back in 2009. At the time of launch,

blockchain technology was not separated from the use case;
it was just blended into what Bitcoin represented. The Bitcoin
blockchain, however, was the first blockchain. As a result, it has
become the de facto standard for most other blockchains that
are in existence today and for those that continue to be created.
They all broadly follow the same broad technical structure as
the Bitcoin blockchain, all with certain nuances that define their

As a result, to understand the blockchain, it is important that

we understand the basics of how Bitcoin works. However, instead
of going straight into heavy technical detail, lets approach it in
terms of an analogy that we can relate to.

What is the Blockchain (In Plain English)?

So, lets set the scene. What happens if I steal your mobile phone?

To establish the truth about my stealing your phone, both of

us would typically go to court. A judge, with perhaps the help
of a jury, would pass
judgement based
on the evidence,
circumstantial and
otherwise, presented
from both prosecuting
and defending
counsels. The truth
would be established
based on the evidence

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26 Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)?

provided, which would fundamentally be based on your word

against mine.

Lets now imagine the

evidence we present
to the judge is from
5,000 independent
who have taken a
photograph of me
stealing your phone.
This almost becomes
incontrovertible proof
that I stole your phone.
If I wanted to prove my innocence or try to falsify the facts, I
would have to persuade at least 2,500 of these independent
photographers to change their images. That would be a
significant challenge. After all, I would have to speak to each of
them individually to convince them to change their photographic
images of me stealing your phone and without any incentive for
them to change the facts, why would they bother? This evidence
becomes very strong, unless of course, I had deep pockets and
a silver tongue. That said, lets make the ability for me to change
that evidence even harder.

Imagine that I have to persuade 50% of all the independent

5,000 photographers to change their images of me stealing
your phone in the space of 10 minutes. Because at the end of
10 minutes all the photographs they have taken are going to be
locked away in a bank vault and permanently sealed. This is
going to make it even tougher for me to change the evidence.

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Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)? 27

My chances of getting that elusive job of being the in-house

restaurant critic at the local prison have just increased.

The final coup de grace is added when we put a combination

lock on that bank vault that now houses the 5,000 images of
me stealing your phone. This combination lock has more
combinations on it than there are grains of sand on the planet.
It would take me an estimated 0.65 billion, billion years13 to
randomly crack the combination lock of this bank vault that has
the 5000 images. Clearly, it is now all but impossible for me to
change the facts that I stole your phone.

Finally, lets install a video camera that is connected to the

internet that lets anyone see all the images that have been
taken and permanently locked away. Not only is the act of my
stealing your phone stored on photographs that are permanently
locked away, but also there is complete transparency to view the
evidence by anyone with access to view the images.

That is how the blockchain works.

However, instead of 5,000 independent photographers, we have
5,000 independent computers, called nodes, that are networked
together across the globe and connected via the internet.
Instead of photographs, we have data. So, in the same way, as
the photographers images were locked away in a permanently
sealed bank vault, data is locked together inside a block of data
which is then cryptographically sealed with a seal that has more
permutations than there are grains of sand on the planet. This



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28 Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)?

cryptographic seal has the

same effect as a traditional
wax seal, although it is of
course significantly more

Each block of data

contains a timestamp
and a link to the previous
block. In this way, we have
a timestamped record of a
block of data having been recorded and sealed. Because the
blocks of data are crytpographically sealed and linked together,
we can trace back through previous records. Equally, in the highly
unlikely event of a seal being broken, we could go back through
the linked data and audit what had happened.

All the blocks of data are linked together to form a chain

of permanently locked blocks of data hence the name

The power and beauty of these concurrent blocks of data,

however, lies in the way the 5,000 nodes on the network work
together. Every one of the 5,000 independent computers holds
the same copy of all the blocks of that data that have ever been
sealed and linked together. They ultimately collectively agree
that those blocks of data are the same across the network
through what is known as a consensus algorithm, where,
broadly speaking, 51% of all the computers on the network have
agreed on the data that is housed in the blocks.

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Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)? 29

In its essence, the block chain is defined as:

a peer-to-peer database that is immutable.

In other words, once data has been written to the database

and has been agreed by at least 51% of the 5,000 independent
computers, it is locked permanently and cannot be altered.

As with the photographs of me stealing your phone, where I

would have to change at least 2,500 individual photographers
images to change the truth, so it is with the blockchain. At least
51% of the computers would have to be altered to change the
stored data. The significance of this is that there is no longer just
one single point of attack.

Many well documented financial hacks have occurred in

the past, where bank data has been changed and re-directed
fraudulently to a new account. These changes have typically
been made by attacking one central point of weakness one
point of attack, where records are stored and changed. Under a
blockchain type of structure, the system is not only decentralised
to take away that central point of attack, but the data is also
distributed across multiple computers. In our example of the
5,000 computers on the network, this significant centralised
weakness is removed. Any hacker or attacker would need to
access at least 2,500 computers at the same time to change the
data a significantly harder task.

Hacking is a very sophisticated art within the major criminal

organisations world-wide. It is not the clich-ridden Hollywood
view of a spotty teenager hacking the systems and making off

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30 Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)?

with millions in a split second. Instead, attacks and hacks are

often planned months in advance, the perpetrators patiently
stalking financial institutions and their key employees over
a period of time, gradually encroaching into the institutions
system. The infection-to-cash cycle, as it is called, usually starts
with infected malware. This is often embedded within other
files that finishes up working its way through an organisations
administrative systems even, for example, to the point of opening
the internal camera systems. Gradually and painstakingly the
hackers work their way through to locate the weaknesses of a
centralised system until their chosen point to strike is identified.
With a decentralised, distributed blockchain that has multiple
copies of the same database, this process becomes a nightmare.

Cyber stalking now has to be multiplied across multiple

computer systems across multiple institutions that will comprise
private blockchains, where only known parties are allowed to
participate e.g., other known financial institutions that have high
standards of security. The hackers workload increases almost
exponentially, making it so much harder to access and change
financial data for their own benefit. As in nature, there is safety in

While the cat-and-mouse games between institutions and

hackers will always continue to play out, you can probably begin
to see, from this comparatively simple structure, the potential of
the blockchain from a security point of view alone. This is just one
aspect of the blockchains potential and power.

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Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)? 31

The Importance of Cryptocurrency Miners

The concept of mining
is an important one
to understand as it is
an intrinsic part of the
infrastructure of the Bitcoin
blockchain and most other
blockchains that have
superseded it.

As we saw above, once

data is collected together, it is put into blocks, and the blocks
are then cryptographically sealed. It is the miners that seal these

While anyone can mine Bitcoin with the right equipment,

Miners are typically companies that have access to extensive
computer power. This power is usually in the form of banks of
specialist, very powerful computers. The miners also usually act
as nodes on the network (one of the 5,000 computers in our
example above).

The Bitcoin protocol

requires miners to solve a
cryptographic puzzle. By
successfully solving the
puzzle, the cryptographic
seal is then applied to
a block of data. Miners
compete with each other

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32 Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)?

to solve the puzzle, and whichever miner solves the puzzle first
is rewarded with a Bitcoin.

So, by providing the security for the blockchain, the miners

themselves get rewarded with a Bitcoin. Miners also get a second
reward for providing support for the underlying infrastructure
by getting rewarded with the transaction fees of keeping the
blockchain running. So, for example, if I send you a Bitcoin, there
will be a transaction fee for administering the transfer of that
Bitcoin. While small (around 3 - 10 cents), it is another reward
for being a miner and providing the infrastructure for the Bitcoin

The Dynamic between Mined Cryptocurrencies and

Miners are commercial entities, with commercial drivers. To mine
Bitcoins, for example, requires miners to have extensive banks,
even warehouses, full of computers. As a result, there are direct
costs of mining electricity, the depreciation of the hardware,
the teams to administer the network, etc., etc. The harder it is
to mine, the more computing power and electricity are required
to mine and the greater the costs. So, for a commercial Bitcoin
miner to generate a profit, the combination of the value of the
Bitcoin and the transaction fees they generate from administering
transactions have to be sufficiently more than the costs of mining
for them to generate appropriate profit levels. This narrative is
particularly important.

As part of the Bitcoin mining protocol, the number of Bitcoins

that are available to be mined is limited in nature. So, for Bitcoin,
only 21 million coins will ever be issued, with the last Bitcoins due

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Chapter 3: How Does The Blockchain Work (In Plain English)? 33

to be available in around the year 2140. Also, every four years,

the annual number of coins available to be mined is halved. This
changes the dynamic of mining significantly.

With fewer Bitcoins available to be mined, all the competing

miners have fewer opportunities to earn Bitcoins. The overall
costs they incur, however, still need to be paid. So, unless the
value of Bitcoin rises, making it worth their while to continue to
mine Bitcoins, the cost of transactions on the Bitcoin network will
need to rise to compensate. As a result, we tend to see this see-
saw effect between Bitcoin values and transaction fees, resulting
in volatility in mining fees and Bitcoin prices, which presents any
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) with significant risks when looking
at cryptocurrencies. Now, if the number of transactions a CFO
administers is low, and the fees are at the level of cents, this
wont present a significant problem. However, if the number
of transactions rises significantly, this volatility will become an
increasingly difficult issue to manage.

Different cryptocurrencies are trying to address this issue of

the costs of mining and their relation to transaction fees but it
is important to understand this uncertainty as it presents risks in
the adoption of cryptocurrencies in general.

Down The Rabbit Hole

Blockchain Technology
4 The Ten Pillars Of Strength

Bitcoin was an amazing invention. The more I have written about
Bitcoin and more latterly the blockchain, the more I have been
impressed by the underlying strengths of the very foundations
that Bitcoin created. It has opened so many new possibilities that
have never been seen before. It is these possibilities that are
catching the imagination of so many people, including the media.

Media hype, however, is a double-edged sword. On the

one hand, it is great in terms of promoting the technology and
generating awareness, but on the other, it generates an over-
exaggerated expectation that it is too early for the technology
to deliver.

Gartner Inc., the global information technology research, and

advisory company summarise this very well within their regularly
produced Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies.
In their latest Hype Cycle report from August 2016, they have
included the major emerging technologies and where they are,
in terms of expectation versus delivery. Their summary is shown

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Chapter 4: Blockchain Technology 35

As we can see, blockchain is regarded as being very close to the

peak of inflated expectations, undoubtedly fuelled by the high
levels of media coverage that have been seen over the past
12 18 months. Indeed, within the Gartner Hype Cycle diagram
above, you can see that they believe it will be 5 10 years before
the blockchain hits mainstream adoption. For financial services,
I believe this is probably pretty accurate, but there are various
applications that will hit the mainstream earlier, that we will
discuss later in the book. These will tend to be simpler ideas and
ones that include the idea of provenance or ownership.

In this and the next chapte, we will consider the ten core
strengths and the ten core weaknesses of the blockchain.
Both are vital to understand, as they will provide you with an

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36 Chapter 4: Blockchain Technology

understanding of both the motivations to develop the technology

and the core features that are likely to inhibit its adoption and
growth. While we will be considering the relative merits of the
technology, it is important to understand that the technology is
still very new and is still developing and growing.

As the whole blockchain ecosystem continues to develop

worldwide, its wheels greased with ever-increasing venture
capital funding, we will see constant improvements in the
technology. Many of the weaknesses we will look at will be ironed
out over time, and many of the inhibitors to adoption will fade
away. That said, the blockchain ecosystem is dynamic, with its
DNA still being forged. As a result, while extensive improvements
are likely over time, they will have with them added challenges
the dragons teeth effect, if you like. Solving one problem may
prompt others to rise in its wake, creating an ever-increasing
game of catch-up.

The blockchain ecosystem will tend to be on shifting sands

over the next few years. It will undoubtedly be full of iterations
and deep changes in the short to medium term, as it creates
its path towards long-run maturity, stability, and extensive
commercial usage. So, lets look first at the ten core strengths of
the blockchain.

As we begin to consider the ten pillars of strength for the

blockchain in general and cryptocurrencies, in particular, we will
also notice that some of the strengths can ironically be seen to
be weaknesses as well. While this might appear strange to you
now as you read this, you will understand how this is the case as
we progress, with this becoming more apparent as we explore
the strengths further.

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Chapter 4: Blockchain Technology 37

1. Creating a digital currency that cannot be copied

A right click of your mouse; a quick scroll; Save as. Its that
easy to copy images on line.

Whether its photographs, spreadsheets, research papers,

videos, the power of the internet has been driven by its intrinsic
capability to share almost anything quickly and easily. That is very
powerful. On the flip side, however, it is also one of its greatest
weakness just ask the Hollywood studios or the independent
photographers squeezing out a living from their creative art,
seeing their livelihood being eroded away, one right click at a
time. Copying anything digital is easy. Bitcoin, as a digital currency
and the worlds first cryptocurrency, however, was different.

To have a secure digital currency that will instil confidence, we

need a digital currency which cannot be copied or reproduced.
This has been an ongoing problem that has caused so many
headaches for digital currency enthusiasts and cryptographers
over the years the issue of what is known as double spending.

Double spending relates to the ability to spend the same

digital currency twice. Lets use an example to give this some
perspective. If I take out a $10 note from my pocket to buy you
a cup of coffee and give it to the barista, we both know that
the barista has received the banknote. While the note could be
forged, the barista can see, touch and feel it; it is in his hand.
I cannot give the same note to someone else. However, what
happens with digital currencies?

If I give the barista $10 worth of a digital currency through my

smartphone, how does he know that he will get his money and

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38 Chapter 4: Blockchain Technology

that I wont go to another caf straight away and buy a sandwich,

thus spending the same money twice?

Every single transaction ever made on the Bitcoin network

since its inception in 2009 is stored on each and every node
that makes up the Bitcoin network, i.e., the computers that are
connected to the network. Everyone on the network knows
about any confirmed transaction and has an agreed form of this
database of transactions, a ledger if you like. Currently the size
of the Bitcoin Blockchain on each node is around 90 gigabites in
size. This means that the history of every previous transaction of
every Bitcoin is permanently available for everyone to see, and
for every node to reference and process. So, it is easy to audit
the fact that your Bitcoin address has valid Bitcoins available at a
given point in time. The only down side can come from the length
of time taken for a Bitcoin transaction to be formally confirmed by
all computers on the network.

Size of the Bitcoin blockchain Source:

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Chapter 4: Blockchain Technology 39

While different cryptocurrencies have different times for the

creation of each block, it can take six confirmations for a Bitcoin
transaction to be confirmed. With each block on the Bitcoin
network taking 10 minutes to be created, six confirmations is
about an hour. This delay can leave someone open to fraud from
what is known as a double spending attack.

Heres how it works. In our case, we have bought a cup of coffee

from Barista 1 with Bitcoin. Barista 1 then gets his Bitcoins after six
confirmations. However, if we go to Barista 2 directly afterwards
and buy a second cup of coffee, whoever gets six confirmations
first will get the cleared Bitcoin payment, and the person who
comes second will get nothing. This becomes a challenge if the
coffee has already been released by both baristas. The best
practice, in principal, is for the barista to wait for one hour for the
confirmations before releasing the coffee which is not always
going to be practical.

As we can see, the ability not to double spend the same

Bitcoin is a great strength but the practicalities of having to wait
for sixty minutes for confirmation is a weakness. The strength of
the security becomes a weakness. Many companies are looking
at speeding up the confirmation timings because it is impractical

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40 Chapter 4: Blockchain Technology

to have to wait for a commercial transaction for an hour, especially

in fast-paced environments such as equity trading.

2. Removing the Need for Trust

If we think back to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), one of the
key reasons behind the whole crisis getting increasingly worse
was the lack of trust that grew between financial institutions.
Once Lehman Brothers, at one time the fourth largest investment
bank in the US, collapsed, there was the contagion effect of no-
one knowing which bank was going to be next. There was an air
of suspicion and distrust.

The global banking system is made up of financial institutions

that lend money and borrow money from each other in the course
of day-to-day dealings and then settle their accounts usually at
the end of the business day. The domino effect of lacking trust
and not knowing who might be the next to cease trading made
banking very difficult. It is not surprising that Bitcoin was launched
at the time of the GFC in January 2009.

A Bitcoin transaction directly between two parties is based

solely on their private keys and public keys. You send a Bitcoin
via your private key, and you receive a Bitcoin via your public
key. There is no third-party bank or credit card company required
in the middle to approve or validate that the transaction has
occurred. It is the blockchain technology itself that validates the

In essence, by removing the potential need for trusted third-

party institutions, we as individuals have the capacity to be our
own banks by controlling our own cryptocurrency wallets that
contain our cryptocurrency coins.

Down The Rabbit Hole

I hope you enjoyed your free sample of the book. If you would
like to buy the book please visit the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Thanks for all your support.